Six French climbers died yesterday after falling from Mont Blanc, in one of the worst accidents in a decade on Europe's highest mountain.
"We are certain that the climbers unfortunately died on the spot after a fall of around 250 metres," rescue police spokesman Frederic Labrunye said.
The group of four men and one woman, aged between 27 and 45 and accompanied by a experienced guide, set out on Tuesday for the peak at Aiguille d'Argentiere on the Mont Blanc massif, which stands at 3,902 metres. The weather deteriorated rapidly, and the accident probably happened some time around midday, authorities said.
Frantic rescue efforts began after the group failed to return to the refuge as planned but were severely hampered by bad weather. Five bodies were found early yesterday, with the sixth discovered in a crevasse later in the day. The accident came amid growing fears that Mont Blanc is increasingly becoming a tourist "free-for-all".
Agnes Robine, a prosecutor in the Alpine town of Chamonix, said the group members were in the second week of a two-week course to perfect their climbing skills. "These were not novices in terms of climbing," she said.
She added that a judicial investigation had been launched, notably to see if anyone was at fault for the accident.
The head of the refuge where the group was staying said their 42-year-old guide was experienced and did the trip every fortnight. The accident, the single worst loss of life on the mountain in more than two years, caps a climbing season that has left 17 people dead or missing, according to local police official Georges-Francois Leclerc.
The worst single death toll from an accident on Mont Blanc in recent times came in July 2012, when nine climbers - Swiss, German, British and Spanish - were killed in an avalanche.